(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Practice Makes Perfect
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The gospels make it clear (though without as much detail as our curiosity might like) that a family in Bethany, a “suburb” of Jerusalem, were Jesus’ dear friends. There were two sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Mary, in a quiet way, emerged as a spiritual “superhero.” In this brief story, the gospel writer Luke showed the secret of Mary’s spiritual strength.
The apostle Paul wrote that no one follows Christ all alone. Christ’s power, he said, calls us into the spiritual unity of the church. At times when we find that unity with Christ and one another is still hard, God calls us to accountability, to become spiritually mature so that nothing can knock us off course. Building this kind of community requires us to speak the truth in love, and grow in our faith together each day so that we become more like our Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:5-8
Faith is the key foundation for constructing a strong walk with Jesus, but it’s not the whole building. Peter listed seven other traits to “add to” our faith: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, affection for others and love. Put them all together, he said, and you’ll be equipped for an active, fruitful life for God.
Sooner or later, trouble comes to everyone. Spiritual superheroes are not people who go through life avoiding trouble—that just can’t be done. But it takes wisdom from God to use those tough times to build spiritual maturity and strength, rather than sinking into despair and complaint. Thankfully, James said God is willing to give us that wisdom when we ask for it in faith.
The apostle Paul sketched an appealing picture of a Spirit-powered life, the kind of life we get to have as we follow Christ. (For a thought-provoking study, compare Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit with Peter’s list of traits from Wednesday’s reading.) Paul vividly contrasted the Spirit-powered life with the negative outcomes produced when we base our lifestyle solely on our selfish desires.
On Monday, we read about a key way that Mary built her spiritual strength. In this story, her heroic, “all in” love blessed Jesus’ heart in the last week of his life before the crucifixion. Mary defied cost and social scorn to act out her gratitude and love for Jesus. When Judas questioned her act, Jesus showed how much it meant to him with the unusually sharp rejoinder, “Leave her alone.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord, help us to love you as courageously and committedly as Mary loved you. Grant us the wisdom we need so desperately and for which we forget to ask. Help us to become the people you would have us be and fill us with the talents, skills and gifts we need to encourage those around us. It is in Jesus’ name that we ask. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
In real life, what kinds of people seem to come the closest to being superheroes? What attributes do they seem to have that qualify them in your mind for this status?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Luke 10:38-42. It has been said that our lives are largely carved out of the choices we make. How do you feel about that? Can making the right choices in life make us, as compared to others, something like “super heroes”? Would you classify Mary as one of the heroes of the New Testament? What kinds of spiritual choices have you made? Have your best choices made your life better? Is Christ one of the choices you have made? Can Christ be, as he suggested, the only truly important, pivotal choice?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. As you look at your local church, can you see how Christ has equipped each member differently? Can you see how the differing individual gifts, talents and skills that are brought together strengthen the entire body of Christ? Are you able to see a clear role for yourself within the church? Does finding that role require any choices on your part? Do you believe you have the ability to benefit others within the church as you do your part? In your day-to-day life, do you ever consider your Christ-inspired role and how it can benefit others outside your local church?
Read 2 Peter 1:5-8. In these verses we are encouraged to become ever stronger and stronger in our ability to serve God and humankind. Can you envision these words as a description of a kind of training program? Is it, in a way, like getting advanced degrees in Christian living? If you followed this advice, can you see yourself growing ever closer to becoming the Christian “super-hero” that Christ would like you to become? Would you be pleased if you could measure yourself against each of these virtues and see yourself as strong in every category? Why should we choose to work so hard and constantly strive for “Christian perfection”?
Read James 1:2-5. Do you think God tests our faith, or does the world, with all its pain and challenges, offer enough tests without God adding to it? Can you see how the challenges of life force us to exercise our spiritual muscles and strengthen our faith? Can any of us avoid trouble in life? Is this good? How have life’s trials actually helped you? Is it part of God’s plan for us? Is God’s free offering of wisdom something that can help us in our struggles? Why wisdom? Is the phrase “the worst thing is never the last thing” a piece of wisdom? Is it helpful in facing your trials?
Read Galatians 5:16-25. If we were to live perfectly in step with these verses, would we be getting pretty close to becoming spiritual “superheroes”? When Paul spoke of “the desires of the flesh,” was he talking about natural pleasures like going to work to support our family, having intimate relations with our spouses or enjoying a good meal? If not, what was he talking about? How did he describe the results of following “the desires of the flesh”? Does being “led by the spirit” mean that we will enjoy life less, or more? What reasons can you give for your answer?
Read John 12:1-7. One way to get the most out of Bible reading is to envision yourself in each and every one of the characters. Can you see yourself or some part of yourself in each of these people? What’s the danger of always seeing yourself as the hero or, the superhero? What lessons can you learn as you look for at least a part of yourself in Judas or one of the people unmentioned in the scene?
From last week: Did you put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you will see it every day the words “God is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine”? When you saw the words, did you ask God how they apply to your everyday life? What was your experience in doing this?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 9, 2013:
God gifts us with this power to do extraordinary things, greater things, or abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine. As Christians the knowledge of that power should inspire us to live differently, more generous, loving, charitable lives. Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. We were created in God’s image and we were gifted with the ability to live in ways that mirror God’s image or reflect his goodness, mercy, and unconditional love everywhere we go, in ways that invite others to do the same, thus changing the world.
To do this, however, we must take responsibility. We must own it, live it, breathe it and above all things remember it. To put it simply we must practice it.
The first time we meet Mary of Bethany is when she and her sister Martha were playing host to Jesus. Once Jesus arrived Martha bustled all around trying to get everything ready, while Mary set everything aside in order to sit at the Lord’s feet. Martha was working while Mary faithfully sat at Christ’s feet. Jesus praises Mary for choosing ‘the better part which will not be taken away from her.”
The next time we meet Mary…she and Martha are weeping and mourning over her brother, Lazarus’ death. Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, and he arrived in Bethany on the fourth day. Martha ran out to greet Jesus and then Jesus called for Mary.
In John 11:28 we read, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Mary without any hesitation runs to meet up with Jesus and for the second time in as many attempts, falls at his feet, only this time she’s weeping and pleading for him to rescue her brother.
When Jesus arrives in Bethany for the third time, Mary, Martha and Lazarus take Jesus and the disciples in and begin to care for them, and they shut the rest of the world out for this one special night.
Just as they all sit down for supper, Mary joins back up with the dinner party, only she comes back into the story holding an alabaster jar in her hands. Wordless she kneels for the third time in as many attempts at Jesus’ feet and this time she breaks the jar’s neck and as she does the smell of perfume fills the room as though she was trying to cover up the stench of something terrible, and then as everyone in the room watches her, she loosens her hair. She pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. She touches him and then she wipes the perfume off with her hair–totally inexplicable. What? What is she doing? Why now? Why this really expensive perfume? And why is she back at his feet? Shouldn’t she be standing up?
She could have anointed his head with that perfume and everyone there could have proclaimed Christ as king. But she doesn’t do that. When she moved toward him, she dropped to her knees, she bowed before his feet and poured the perfume on his feet, which could only mean one thing. The only kind of man who got his feet anointed back then was a dead man, and Mary knew it…so did Jesus. Mary, in the midst of this moment knelt down at Jesus’ feet for the third time and anointed Jesus for his burial. Jesus replies to everyone’s confusion saying, “Leave her alone.” Let her finish delivering the message.
In one of the most tender moments in the gospel, Mary anoints Jesus feet with this precious perfume. In the midst of darkness, she lavishes him with excess and demonstrates her unending love.
The power of Mary’s actions and her life of practiced discipleship is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. Every time we meet Mary, she sits, kneels or bows at Jesus feet. She worships. Regardless of what is happening around her, she is fixed and focused on the Lord. When she’s entertaining dinner guests, she’s kneeling at his feet. When her brother dies, she is bowing at Christ’s feet. In the days leading up to Jesus’ death, Mary is once again at his feet.
The life of discipleship, the making of a superhero is defined by ongoing acts of love and one’s persistent response to the power of Christ within us. The more we remember and practice, the stronger we become.
Are you practicing? What gifts has God offered to you? Are you refining them? Are you employing them? Are you honing them so that you might live lives that shine with the light of Christ? Everybody can do something.
Fruit of the Spirit
Gal. 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Now, quick, without looking, how many fruit are there of the Spirit? Take a guess and then count to see if you got it right. Did you get it right? Did you get nine? If you did, you’re wrong because there is only ONE fruit of the Spirit, that’s right, just one. In Greek the word for “fruit” is “karpos” and it is in the singular. So, to translate this a little loosely, it could read like this. “But the single fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” This means that all of these graces listed are one group that goes together as a unit.
Now, this little tidbit of information is important. First of all, notice that the fruit of the Spirit is just that, of the Spirit. It is not your fruit, but the fruit of the Spirit of God. This is because God is love (1 John 4:8) and He lives in the believer (John 14:23). This means that it is the work of God the Holy Spirit in you to bear this fruit. Of course, you cooperate with God in bearing this fruit and you absolutely need to seek to develop it, but it is God who is “…at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Of course, we know that it is God’s good pleasure that you love and bear the fruit of love.
Second, if it is all one fruit, then all the nine things listed there are already yours in the Spirit of God. In other words, all nine things are really one thing that you have because the Holy Spirit indwells you—if you are a Christian, that is. You see, if you are loving, then will you not have joy? If you are loving, will you not also have peace? If you are loving, will you not also be patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? It could easily be said that love is the tree that bears the fruit of joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you have love, the love of God in your heart because of your belief and faith in Jesus and His sacrifice, then all the other graces listed there are yours too. You just need to develop them.
But when you examine yourself you might notice that some of the fruit (speaking of individual aspects of love here) are not all that well developed. You might be kind and good, but need to work on your patience. You might have great joy and peace but need work on self-control and gentleness. None of us are perfect, and we all have areas of improvement. But all Christians have the Spirit of God and therefore, they have the fruit of the Spirit of God in them. It is there, if only in developing form, but it is there.
Now, this is important. Why is it there? I want you to focus on this following point. The fruit of the Spirit of God is in you because, if you are a Christian, you have been bought with a price. You have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, God in flesh (John 1:1,14), who died on the cross for your sins (1 Pet. 2:24). It is only because of what Jesus did that you can ever hope to be good, or gentle, or kind, or patient, or loving, or anything. You cannot truly live these things without the Spirit of God in you.
Finally, it is by faith that you walk before God (Hab. 2:4). It is by faith that you seek the Lord and seek to manifest the love of His Spirit in you. It is important because the unbelievers need to see those graces working in you. They are an evidence of your conversion and a testimony of God’s indwelling.
So, ask yourself if you are loving or trying to show love not only to God but also to people. Then go back and count those fruit again. When you get to “one,” stop and ask the Lord to develop that in your heart.
This week, put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you will see it every day, the list of the fruit of the Spirit (see above). Each day, re-read the list to see which of the items need to be cultivated in your life, and then do your best to exercise these items throughout your day-to-day life. Next week, let the group know the ways in which your life was enriched.